Intel's mobile patents go up for auction

When Apple announced it would switch back to Qualcomm-made modems, ending a long-running spat between the two giants, it was a huge blow for Intel's budding modem division. Such an enormous blow, in fact, that Intel announced hours later it would close the division altogether.

Intel began supplying Apple with 4G LTE modems as early as 2016, when half of iPhone 7 devices shipped with an Intel modem, and the other half with a Qualcomm-made one. Eventually, Intel supplied all the modems for iPhones, starting with the iPhone Xs in 2018. But, the company was so behind on 5G modems that it would delay Apple's first 5G iPhone into at least 2020, if not further—so the relationship soured.

Now that Intel is out of the business, the patent hoard is for sale—and it's going to be one hell of an auction. According to IAM, it's divided into two portfolios, with "6,000 patent assets related to 3G, 4G and 5G cellular standards and an additional 1,700 assets that read on wireless implementation technologies."

Why does this matter? Well, anyone in the chipmaking business is likely to want access to these patents—particularly Apple, which plans an in-house 5G modem in 3-6 years—and with so many patents in bulk, it's too good to pass up. Notably, the patents actually go beyond the modem business itself, which is also for sale, and could be picked up at the same time.

There's likely to be a big-ticket bidding war over this, because it's rare for so many patents to come available in bulk. The last time this happened was after Nortel Networks went bankrupt, putting 6,000 patents on the market, which was ultimately won by a consortium including Apple, Microsoft, Sony and RIM for $4.5 billion.

Buying these patents is perfect for protecting against patent trolls, and using them to extract money from other companies that infringe on them—despite the fact that these companies never actually invented anything in the first place.

The Jony Ive saga continues

After Jony Ive announced he'd leave Apple last week, The Wall Street Journal published a piece that provides insight into the designer's reasoning for leaving:

"Mr. Ive grew frustrated as Apple’s board became increasingly populated by directors with backgrounds in finance and operations rather than technology or other areas of the company’s core business, said people close to him and to the company."

It also provides some insight into how Apple Watch came to be, and what went on behind the scenes:

At the same time, investors and tech analysts were questioning Apple’s ability to innovate without Mr. Jobs. Mr. Ive had begun pushing to make a watch." [...]  Mr. Cook approved the project and Mr. Ive threw himself into it in 2013."

"[Ive] disagreed over how to position the Watch with some Apple leaders, who wanted to sell it as an extension of the iPhone. Mr. Ive saw it as a fashion accessory. [...] The result was a compromise. The watch was electronically tethered to the iPhone, and started at $349. [...] Thousands of the gold version went unsold.

And, throughout the piece, it paints a painful picture of Ive's relationship with Cook—and how he slowly stopped appearing on campus: 

But people in the design studio rarely saw Mr. Cook, who they say showed little interest in the product development process—a fact that dispirited Mr. Ive." [...] Mr. Ive promised to hold a “design week” each month with the software designers to discuss their work. He rarely showed up."

For the iPhone X model, Mr. Ive and other Apple leaders decided the phone would have no home button. The human interface team was asked to design software features that could return people to the homescreen without it [...] Pressure was on to finalize features before for the phone’s autumn unveiling. Team members were disappointed Mr. Ive failed to give them the guidance they needed.

It's a piece worth reading for yourself—but what's interesting is it elicited a direct response from Tim Cook, who emailed a reporter at NBC to complain about the story:

The story is absurd. A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don't match with reality. At a base level, it shows a lack of understanding about how the design team works and how Apple works. It distorts relationships, decisions and events to the point that we just don't recognize the company it claims to describe. 

Funnily enough, Cook doesn't correct anything from the story, nor does he specify any actual factual issues—but that wasn't the point of this email at all, which simply exists to distract from the story in the first place.

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